This week, I learned to be careful what you wish for. After I sent last week’s newsletter, I hopped on an American Airlines (AA) flight to JFK. I have Executive Platinum status on AA (that means I flew at least 100,000 miles with them and/or their partners in 2016) so I get complimentary upgrades on domestic flights. They alert you to an upgrade up to 100 hours before flight departure. I’ve noticed that when I fly on American’s plush transcons, I usually don’t get upgraded until about five hours before departure, which happened again on this flight. The extra space and a lie-flat seat makes the 4.5-hour trip so much easier.
When we landed almost an hour early at 8:20pm, I checked the traffic going into the city using Waze. There wasn’t any, so I decided I would go with my plan A and take uberX instead. My plan B was to take the AirTrain to the E subway train. The uberX fare was $58; I could have saved $23 by using Uber Pool but I wasn’t in the mood to risk circling the airport or making any stops.
InterContinental New York Barclay
I had an excellent driver who was originally from India. I could tell right away that he was a professional since his car was clean, his driving was smooth, and he didn’t play any annoying music or talk too much. Sure enough, he’s been working as a limousine driver for decades. Thirty-five minutes later, I was at the InterContinental New York Barclay at 48th and Lexington. It’s one of the original railroad hotels as it’s just four blocks from Grand Central Terminal. It was built in 1926 but it recently underwent a beautiful refurbishment. Not only are the rooms stylish but the sheets are crisp and cozy. The only thing that really bothered me was that I had a connecting room door, so I could hear everything, including the guests next door talking and even their wakeup calls in the morning. The hotel offered to move me but I was only there for two nights and I was already settled in. By the time I heard them, I was already in bed and didn’t feel like packing or unpacking. Next time, I will be sure to request a room that doesn’t have a connecting door. Rates begin at $224.
IMM and the Empire State Building
I was in New York for a few reasons. One was to attend TravMedia’s International Media Marketplace (IMM), another was to meet with one of my sponsors and the last was to speak at the New York Times Travel Show. The conference had excellent networking and after a long day of meetings, the folks at New York City Tourism (NYCGO) hosted a party at the top of the Empire State Building for the 400+ attendees. Even though I grew up just 42 miles away in South Norwalk, Connecticut, it was my first time going to the top of the world famous building. It didn’t disappoint and it’s really something special on a clear night like we had. If you want to go, here are prices and times.
Trump Tower and Hotel
On Friday, I checked out of the Barclay and checked into the Beacon Hotel, which is located on 74th and Broadway on New York’s Upper West Side. Would you believe I walked the 2.1 miles with my bags in the cold air to get there? I walked with my buddy Chris McGinnis and we got to talking—so that by the time I realized my hands were getting numb (I’d forgotten my gloves), I was just 10 blocks away.
BTW: Along the way, I walked by Trump Tower, which has turned into quite the tourist spot. There are barricades and police all around it and dozens of tourists taking photos and he wasn’t even in town. I also walked by the Trump International Hotel NYC on Central Park West and that too had barricades but not as much security. Either way, I was glad I wasn’t staying there or at any of his other properties around the world because no matter how nice they are, I think they are a big terrorist target after his latest policies.
The Beacon Hotel
I was planning on spending two nights at the Beacon Hotel and I was looking forward to it since they have oversized guestrooms and suites. I was in a one-bedroom, one-bath that had a kitchenette and three enormous closets. It feels like a New York City apartment and depending on the side you’re on, you’ll have a view of Central Park, the Hudson River or Midtown Manhattan. The hotel wasn’t as plush as the Barclay but it felt more homey. What I didn’t like is that I couldn’t find any outlets near the bed, but to be fair I didn’t look all that hard; I only spent a few hours in the room since I ended up having to leave early (more on that below). Rates begin at $200.
My new favorite Italian restaurant in NYC
After I dropped my bags off at the Beacon, I took a Lyft to the Javits Center to attend media day at the New York Times Travel Show. I ran into so many friends and just like at IMM, everyone kept congratulating me on being a new dad. It was so nice, and since everyone wanted to see photos of Jack, I made a photo of him the screensaver on my phone.
It made me miss him even more and I kept telling everyone that I wished I were home with him. At the show, I stopped by the Allianz booth, (they’re one of my sponsors; here’s why I get an annual travel insurance plan from them). Afterwards, they took me and some other bloggers to dinner at what now is my new favorite Italian restaurant in New York City. Rubirosa (address: 235 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10012; phone: 212-965-0500) is located on Mulberry Street in the heart of NoLita (stands for North of Little Italy). You know a place has good food when it’s so crowded that it takes a while to ask the hostess if your table is ready. They serve excellent Italian-American classics and pizzas in a dark space all while playing ‘80s music. They do a huge takeout business, too. The pizzas are so thin that they’re like paper.
Flying home early
Towards the end of dinner, I learned that Natalie’s grandma had just passed away. It was Friday night and it was too late to catch the last flight to L.A. so I could go home and console her. I was supposed to speak on Sunday at the NYT Travel Show but I knew I was going to have to cancel and buy a new ticket to leave in the morning.
When I checked flights for Saturday I knew there wasn’t a chance to get upgraded, but I was happy to see that prices weren’t crazy expensive. I was able to get a ticket for $415 on the next available flight, which was at 7am. I thought about using miles but the options weren’t great: 20,000 for coach, 62,000 for business or 50,000 for first (a much better deal) but if I wanted to keep my elite status, I needed to earn miles so I bought the ticket.
I know I said a couple of weeks ago that I wasn’t going to give American all of my business, but I may have changed my mind since business class on their A321T and 777-300 planes is really nice and it’s difficult to pass up the free upgrades. Even though I did not get upgraded on the 7am flight, I was comfortable since I sat in row 11, which is the emergency exit row with tons of legroom. The only things I didn’t like about this seat are that you need to board early to put your bags up top and that there’s no window. It turns out that it might have been good thing I left early because with all of the protests at major airports, especially at JFK and LAX, I would have had to spend a lot more time getting to or leaving the airports.
BTW: To get to JFK, I ordered an uberX at 5am. I was going to cancel when I saw the driver had a 4.5 rating but decided to give him a chance. He was an older guy from Bangladesh who was very nice but wasn’t a smooth driver. He kept tapping the gas pedal even when there was no one in front of us for blocks and it should have been just smooth sailing. Then he asked me to give him five stars. I was like, “Sorry, dude.”
It was so nice to be back home. I was going to fly to Toronto on Monday to attend Natalie’s grandmother’s funeral but I was feeling ill. I must have let my guard down and allowed the sick people on the planes and at the conference get the best of me because on Tuesday and Wednesday, I had a fever and chills. Now Natalie is getting it and I’m just praying Jack doesn’t.